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Here's what happens if you fly a drone in a lightning storm

By Shawn Knight ยท 6 replies
Apr 12, 2017
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  1. While I don’t doubt that flying a camera-equipped drone in a lightning storm would result in some incredible footage, I also don’t need to tell you how bad of an idea that would be. Don’t believe me? Just have a look at this video from YouTuber Tom Scott.

    In collaboration with the University of Manchester’s High Voltage Laboratory, Scott took a couple of DJI Phantom 3 drones and subjected them to an electrical impulse of 1.4MV – or as Scott says, “basically, a lightning strike.”

    Needless to say, the first drone doesn’t survive… but what if you add a lightning rod?

    Found is a TechSpot feature where we share clever, funny or otherwise interesting stuff from around the web.

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  2. Uncle Al

    Uncle Al TS Evangelist Posts: 5,374   +3,770

    That makes a great practical demo for that fellow that told me a lightning strike on an all electric aircraft would be no problem ...... and in this case it was only a million volts or so .......
  3. Trillionsin

    Trillionsin TS Evangelist Posts: 1,806   +407

    but... now correct me if I'm wrong... doesnt any aircraft actually have lightning protection? Regardless whether it's powered by electricity or combustion fuel there are still electronics in the aircraft that need protection.

    Seriously, I'm no expert. lol
  4. stewi0001

    stewi0001 TS Evangelist Posts: 2,192   +1,617

    I can't say that I am either but I will share what knowledge I have. Like water, it typically goes the path of least resistance. People that work on high voltage lines actually wear metal mesh jumpsuits so the current goes around them and not through their bodies. As the video mentioned, the battery pack never got damaged because of the metal shielding around it. Similarly airplanes are protected by a metal mesh. Here is a short BBC article that talks a little bit about it. http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20161004-why-lightning-strikes-dont-harm-the-planes-we-fly-in
  5. Uncle Al

    Uncle Al TS Evangelist Posts: 5,374   +3,770

    I think what most miss is rather simple. Since the aircraft is not "grounded" and doesn't need to be in mid air there is no problem. The problem is caused by the sudden and extremely high voltage surging through the components, many of which are in close proximity to others. When there is arcing the components are subject to intense heat which (as with that little drone) can destroy many of the components. No amount of wire mesh will completely protect because the mesh cannot be grounded to offer an other path of least resistance.

    From the point of practicality .... lightning doesn't strike aircraft "all the time" in fact, it is rather infrequent so if the airline that wants to employ electric engines doesn't fly in extreme weather, there is a very, very low probability of any catastrophic events and since they were only talking about using it between a few California cities, that further lessens the chance. Use it on an aircraft that doesn't have a super-critical wing and it will have a pretty decent glide ratio so being able to find a nearby airport will make it even better.

    We've seen from the Gossamer Condor (sorry about the spelling) that a solar power aircraft IS possible so their idea is not so far fetched, but like lots of other things, it's going to take clearing a few more hurtles. Frankly, I'd love to see it, especially when you consider that during those three days after 9/11, the lack of high flying aircraft actually dropped the upper layers of atmosphere by a full degree (See NASA/NOAA report) due to the lack of hydrocarbon's and heat from the engines. I'm not a fan of global warming although I don't think you need to be a genius to see that introduction of fossil fuel burning, etc. since the industrial revolution certainly had SOME effect and any on this Mother Earth is simply too much .....

    OK, I'm tired now, I'm going back for another longer nap!
  6. Badvok

    Badvok TS Maniac Posts: 296   +152

    What exactly is the point of this? Did nobody else notice the tether?
    Most drones aren't grounded and therefore like other aircraft would not suffer any ill effect, current needs to flow between different potentials to cause damage.
  7. p51d007

    p51d007 TS Evangelist Posts: 1,959   +1,229

    Ummmm don't fly your expensive toys in a thunderstorm?

    If you want to fly them , perhaps placing a 1/2 meter pole with metal wiring from the drone, through to a trailing wire, to protect it?

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